Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Seminar on Substance Abuse in the Workplace in Durham, North Carolina

February 08, 1988

Thank you, Governor Jim Martin, and thanks, too, for that great music by the Duke University Pep Band. I understand I'm the backup speaker today. You had a real star this morning: Secretary of Labor Ann McLaughlin. Governor, Dr. Brodie [president of Duke University], distinguished guests, Duke students— [applause] . I figured that was the best way to find out if you were here. [Laughter]

Well, this has been a week of champions for me. Last Wednesday the Redskins came to the White House, and today I am visiting the home of Coach K's [Michael Krzyzewski] Duke Blue Devils. I met them out at the airport when we arrived. You've got a champion Governor in Jim Martin and a champion Senator in Jesse Helms. And North Carolina has given our administration champion leaders: Jack Matlock, our Ambassador to the Soviet Union; Jim Burnley, our Secretary of Transportation; and Bill Bennett, our Secretary of Education.

But today we're here to talk about drugs in the workplace, as you've been doing. As I mentioned, earlier today I had the opportunity to hear from some people who know firsthand about what drugs in the workplace can mean. And I've been very impressed, as well, with what our panel here has told me. As you know, Nancy and I have both taken a personal interest in the crusade for a drug free America. Like so many Americans, we watched with greater and greater apprehension during the years when too much of our media and too many of our cultural and political leaders sent out the message that using illegal drugs was okay.

Well, thank God those days are over. Those days of scenes in a movie where you would get laughs out of someone who was high on marijuana, those scenes where everybody-the first thing they did was open a bottle before the scene began on the screen—well, this conference proves that we no longer shrug off illegal drug use. Yes, Americans in all walks of life have seen the truth about drugs. Workers, employers, students, teachers are all saying no to drugs and alcohol.

A few weeks ago we learned that America's students are saying no as never before. For 13 years we have conducted annual surveys of thousands of graduating seniors in high schools across our country: What drugs have they used? How often? What do they think about drug abuse? Well, just last month the survey of the class of 1987 came out, and the news was the best ever. For the first time since the surveying began, a substantially smaller proportion of high school seniors—one-third smaller—acknowledged current use of cocaine than did the year before. Use of marijuana and amphetamines is also dropping. And almost all students said it was wrong even to try a drug like cocaine. So, America's students are getting the message: Drugs hurt; drugs kill.

And let me add, I can't help being proud of the role someone close to me has played in teaching our young people to stay away from drugs. Nancy's doing a great job. And by the way, I'm the only one in the family the Government's paying, but I think she's working more than I am. [Laughter] And by the way, she's asked me, as she always does when I speak to an audience that includes young people—please, for your families, for your friends, for yourselves, do what so many others are doing and just say no to drugs and alcohol.

But if we're to achieve our goal of a drug free America, we must reach outside the schools and into the workplace. Now, the professional basketball court may seem like a long way from the average office or factory. But as I heard those personal stories before I came out here, I couldn't help thinking how similar they were to a story about drugs in the workplace that I was planning to tell you.

A few years ago, here in North Carolina, North Carolina State had one of the Nation's most promising young basketball stars. David Thompson led North Carolina State to an NCAA championship before signing a pro contract for over $2 million. After three seasons of brilliant play, he was the highest paid player in the National Basketball Association, and then he got into drugs. Over the next two seasons, his game deteriorated. He became injury- and accident-prone. He started showing up late for practice and got into fights on the court. So, he was traded and eventually cut. Two years ago he filed for bankruptcy—millions and a brilliant career squandered on drugs.

Today David Thompson is pulling his life together. We all pray for his success. And he has this warning: "You never feel like you're going to be the one to get hooked," he says. And he added: "I knew that it was harmful both for me and for my career, but I couldn't stop." And he offers this advice about drugs: "Never try it. It's easy to get involved with, and it's very hard to get out of."

David Thompson was an extraordinary athlete but an all too typical on-the-job drug user. Game deteriorating? Studies show that drug users are two-thirds as productive as nonusers. Lost productivity because of drugs costs America nearly $100 billion a year, and that's like having a pulled hamstring in the race of international commerce.

Injury and accident-prone? Drug users are three or four times as likely to be involved in accidents. For example, a study of airline pilots using flight simulators showed that they had trouble performing standard landing maneuvers as long as 24 hours after smoking a marijuana cigarette. I have heard that the amount of time that marijuana stays in the fat in the body—unlike alcohol leaving so quickly—that it can be up to 4 days that the body is still being affected.

Missing work? In one national study, drug users reported skipping work two or three times as often as nonusers.

Difficult to get along with? Ninety-two percent of all Americans say they don't want to work around someone who gets high during the day, perhaps because drug users act the way they tell researchers they feel: They don't want to be at work-period.

One other thing: As I heard firsthand today, when it's all over and drug users look back on the wreckage of their careers and their lives—like David Thompson—their advice is: "Never, never try it." They wish they never had. They wish someone had discovered their habit earlier and given them help.

Well, that's why we're here. Now, I've heard critics say employers have no business looking for drug abuse in the workplace. But when you pin the critics down, too often they seem to be among that handful who still believe that drug abuse is a victimless crime.

When I hear those critics, with their new version of an old, discredited theory, I remember the story about the man who took the train ride. This is my way of getting to tell you a story. [Laughter] The man noticed that the fellow across the aisle was making strange and elaborate gestures and grimaces and then laughing. And finally the man leaned over to ask if anything was wrong. "No, no," the fellow said. "It's just that when I travel I pass the time telling stories to myself." And the man said, "Well, then why do you make faces and gestures as if you were in pain?" And the fellow answered, "Well, every time I start a story, I have to tell myself that I've heard it before." [Laughter]

But we've heard the story of victimless crime before, and it's a bad one. The drug user is a victim. His employer is a victim. His fellow employees are victims. The family that depends on his wages are victims. And America—which is only as strong and as competitive as all of us together-America is the victim. It would be hard to find any crime with more victims than drug abuse.

Almost a year-and-a-half ago, we announced a Federal campaign for a drug free workplace. To accomplish this, we proposed to put the Federal Government in the lead, moving toward a drug free workplace for Federal employees. We're encouraging State and local government to follow our example, as well as Federal contractors and all of the private sector. That means you. And I know that the companies represented here have already moved ahead.

I'm proud of the progress we've made, particularly in the military and other areas where an alert mind can mean the difference between life and death. We got a head start with the military. And since the drug program started there, illegal drug use has gone down by two-thirds. But I know we have a long way to go. The companies here today are leaders, but I know hundreds of others are making progress, too. We in Washington have a lot to learn from you. You're showing how compassion and campaigns for a drug free workplace go hand in hand.

The crusade for a drug free America is being waged on many fronts. In the last 6 years, for the first time ever, we've set up a nationally coordinated attack on drug smuggling. Drug seizures are at an all-time high. Federal drug arrests have increased 66 percent. Arrests of major traffickers have tripled. But in the end, the crusade against drugs will be won not on the shores but in the heart of America. If students, workers, executives, professionals—if all of us decide that there's no place for the enslavement of illegal drugs in this land of the free, then we will win and drugs will lose. And that's our challenge. That's the crusade that you're helping to lead.

You know, there's a great deal of emphasis and people talking about—when I heard a phrase about throwing money at drugs, the idea that it can all be done if we have enough people out there on the borders intercepting. Well, we have intercepted, tons and tons. We have fleets of airplanes and boats and trucks that have been confiscated. And I told some people earlier today, I saw for the first time in my life what $20 million looked like. It was piled up on a table down in Florida, confiscated from drug dealers. And yet as long as there is a profit in it, that isn't enough. The real answer must come from taking the customer away from the drugs, not the other way around.

Then, to those of you—and like some who've spoken here today—who've resolved their problem and cured, they are the greatest exponents. I found that out back, Jim, in my Governor days, when I would try to talk to young people about this when it was first beginning—the emphasis then was on marijuana. And I found out that I might stand there and talk all day, and I wasn't as effective as one individual who could stand up in front of them and say to them, "I've been there. I used to do that." And he can solve more problems in 10 minutes than, as I say, as I could all day. And those are the people, so many of them, who are so unselfishly now joining the crusade. And God bless them and—for all of that you're doing to help—you, to your fellow Americans. I thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:15 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University. He was introduced by Governor James Martin. Prior to his remarks, the President met with members of the business community. Following the seminar, he returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Seminar on Substance Abuse in the Workplace in Durham, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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